One of the fundamental dogmas of Eastern Orthodoxy is the existence of the human soul. This dogma has led the Orthodox Church to continually make various moral statements on the contemporary ethical issues (whether officially through her synods or “unofficially” through her saints which eventually becomes “the consensus of the fathers”). Based on this dogma of the human soul, as well as, the Resurrection of both the body and soul, things such as abortion, stem cell research, test tube babies, artificial insemination, intrauterine insemination, donating organs after death are forbidden to Orthodox Christians.
In Orthodox spiritual circles, one finds the usual paradox of circular reasoning and confirmation bias when it comes to science. They love to boast when an early Church Father, or even Holy Scripture, mentions something that has been verified by one of the sciences many centuries later. This gives an Orthodox Christian a warm feeling that this somehow proves the “Divine inspiration” of the texts. Of course, every religion has such instances of ancient texts containing truths that science has only recently confirmed—Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, most of the pagan religions, etc.; and modern-day adherents of these religions make similar boasts. One would assume that the Orthodox Christians who make such boasts believe in the validity of the science they claim validate the ancient writers’ divine illumination. However, this is only a case of confirmation bias.
However, when one of the sciences contradicts an orthodox teaching or dogma, then the Orthodox Christian resorts to a circular reasoning tactic: “True science validates Orthodoxy and the Scriptures because they are the only truth. If one of the sciences contradicts or seemingly disproves Orthodoxy then it is wrong because Orthodoxy is the only truth.” In some cases, the science will be dismissed abruptly as “an unproven theory” or “Western atheist propaganda.” Cherry picking the scientific quotes that validate one’s religion and ignoring those that invalidate reflects both spiritual and intellectual immaturity. However, Orthodox Christians who want to maintain a “patristic and ecclesiastical fronima” have to do this so that the literal interpretation of many biblical concepts can be validated.
Thus, when a branch of science confirms some aspect of Orthodoxy or the Scriptures, the Orthodox Christian will say with a big smile, “Even science confirms this!” When it contradicts any aspect of the Orthodox faith then it is dismissed as secular and vain knowledge; not useful for the salvation of one’s soul.
Let’s return to the “eternal soul” in Eastern Orthodoxy. One of the central teachings of Orthodoxy is that a human embryo is a complete human being from the moment of conception; i.e., it is both body and soul. This dogma is used in bioethical arguments against abortion; i.e., a human being is murdered before the chance of baptism and enters the next life un-baptized. Furthermore, according to Elder Joseph Voutsas, abbot of St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery in Roscoe, NY, the Church Fathers teach that it is better for a woman to have the baby, baptize it, and then murder it over having an abortion. He also states the canonical penances for murdering a baptized baby are less severe for the mother than having an abortion.
Split Embryos and Chimeras
A 3 day old embryo is a collection of 150 cells called a blastocyst. Embryos at this stage occasionally split, becoming separate people (identical twins). Is this a case of one soul splitting into two? But Orthodox dogma teaches that it is at the moment of conception that the embryo is body and soul. If the embryo splits, does one of them have no soul? Or is a new soul created after the moment of conception? Of course, the early Church Fathers were unaware of this fact; they were not illumined about this when they were writing their treatises about the human soul, their canons or their dogmas.
The early God-illumined Fathers were also unaware of the fact that sometimes two embryos fuse into a single individual, called a chimera. Neither the Orthodox Church nor her ancient dogmatic and scientific Patristic texts have an explanation of what becomes of the extra human soul in such a case. As a matter of fact, they are totally silent about these two physiological phenomenon.
Of course, now that science has revealed these happenings to the world, modern day theologians have been writing books and articles on Orthodox Christian bioethics. However, there is no general consensus and many of the authors have conflicting viewpoints.
Embryo splitting may refer to:
When spontaneous, the natural way in which identical twins are formed.
When artificially induced, a method of cloning.
Monozygotic (MZ) or identicaltwins occur when a single egg is fertilized to form one zygote (hence, “monozygotic”) which then divides into two separate embryos.
Regarding spontaneous or natural monozygotic twinning, a recent theory proposes that monozygotic twins are formed after a blastocyst essentially collapses, splitting the progenitor cells (those that contain the body’s fundamental genetic material) in half, leaving the same genetic material divided in two on opposite sides of the embryo. Eventually, two separate fetuses develop. Spontaneous division of the zygote into two embryos is not considered to be a hereditary trait, but rather a spontaneous and random event.
Monozygotic twins may also be created artificially by embryo splitting. It can be used as an expansion of IVF to increase the number of available embryos for embryo transfer.
Monozygotic twinning occurs in birthing at a rate of about 3 in every 1000 deliveries worldwide.
The likelihood of a single fertilization resulting in monozygotic twins is uniformly distributed in all populations around the world. This is in marked contrast to dizygotic twinning, which ranges from about six per thousand births in Japan (almost similar to the rate of identical twins, which is around 4–5) to 15 and more per thousand in some parts of India and up to over 20 in some Central African countries.The exact cause for the splitting of a zygote or embryo is unknown.
In vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques are more likely to create dizygotic twins. For IVF deliveries, there are nearly 21 pairs of twins for every 1,000.
Artificial embryo splitting or embryo twinning, a technique that creates monozygotic twins from a single embryo, is not considered in the same fashion as other methods of cloning. During that procedure, an donor embryo is split in two distinct embryos, that can then be transferred via embryo transfer. It is optimally performed at the 6- to 8-cell stage, where it can be used as an expansion of IVF to increase the number of available embryos. If both embryos are successful, it gives rise to monozygotic (identical) twins.
A chimera is an ordinary person or animal except that some of their parts actually came from their twin or from the mother. A chimera may arise either from monozygotic twin fetuses (where it would be impossible to detect), or from dizygotic fetuses, which can be identified by chromosomal comparisons from various parts of the body. The number of cells derived from each fetus can vary from one part of the body to another, and often leads to characteristic mosaicism skin coloration in human chimeras. A chimera may be intersex, composed of cells from a male twin and a female twin. In one case DNA tests determined that a woman, mystifyingly, was not the mother of two of her three children; she was found to be a chimera, and the two children were conceived from eggs derived from cells of their mother’s twin.
NOTE: This article is taken from the Sunday Typos, June 10, 2001. It was written to refute Monk Michael’s accusations. Dr. Gregoriou is a Neurologist-Psychiatrist and director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital.1 In this article, Dr. Gregoriou validates Monk Michael’s claim that there are Hagiorite monks who have mental disorders, see psychiatrists, and take psychiatric drugs.
I was motivated to write this article when I read the Monk Michael Hatziantoniou’s interview with the journalist Peter Papavasileios (see the magazine “E” in the Sunday Eleftherotypia, April 22, 2001).
The reason I thought of myself to be a “substantive qualifier” is that I’ve practised psychiatry for 20 years. For the past 12 years, I’ve been the Director of the Psychiatric Department of the Halkidiki General Hospital in whose jurisdiction Mount Athos falls in terms of health coverage.
With my position, I know very well the question under dispute (the use of psychiatric drugs on Mount Athos). Moreover, the fact that I have regularly visited Mount Athos since 1974 (I was then a graduate student at the Medical School of Athens University) permits me to know the people and things of the area quite well.
Firstly, why did the news use the pompous title with the exclamation that “They Take Psychiatric Drugs on Mount Athos?” For a prudent and impartial reader, it has the same “originality” as “They take antibiotics or antihypertensive or anti-rheumatic medications on Mount Athos.” Psychiatric drugs are also medications that relieve and help the people who need them. I don’t understand why particularly on Mount Athos the mentally ill should not take psychotropic drugs. Is it not a shame to be excluded from the therapeutic means of modern medical science?
Fr. Michael rents his garments: “I cannot bear this situation,” he says. He maintains that anyone can cure their mental symptoms with personal effort. Something that is heard daily amongst the ignorant: “Banish your anxiety, pull the sadness from your soul, throw it out,” etc. Similar views proceed either from ignorance or out of some unconscious fear against mental illness and psychotropic drugs. If such counsels were effective then the existence of our psychiatrists would probably have been unnecessary.
Another “scandalous revelation” Fr. Michael makes—that Hagiorites are visiting psychiatrists—pertains to the same spirit! But are we psychiatrists such defiled beings that all sensible and virtuous people must avoid us “so as not to be defiled?” The fact that Hagiorites visit psychiatrists constitutes an occasion of praise, not reproach. If they didn’t visit psychiatrists then they should be accused of medievalism and criminal omission.2
I stress here that the attitude of some religious people—even spiritual fathers—who claim that anyone who lives in God should never resort to psychiatrists or psychotropic drugs is, in every respect, incorrect.3 They believe that psychiatrists wrongly assume responsibilities that belong exclusively to God and the spiritual father. The Hagiorite monks, following the vibrant spiritual tradition, avoid such absolutes. They recognize the difference between mental and spiritual problems. Like all other diseases, they consider mental illnesses result from defects and the corruption of post-Fall man. They do not identify mental illnesses with outside demonic influences. The respect of the Hagiorites towards the proper use of its results is an example of wisdom and ampleness of spirit.
If I understood correctly, Fr. Michael implies amongst his contradictions that the way of life imposed upon the monks (militarization) is what causes psychiatric problems. He also insinuates that some Hagiorites (I wonder what percentage?) who regretted becoming monks were trapped in the system and because they were prevented from leaving the monastery occasionally they killed themselves or set themselves on fire.4 Then the abbots, in order to deter their escape from Mount Athos, issue them psychotropic drugs to bend their will and make them thoughtless, subservient zombies! Yet, Fr. Michael doesn’t complain that he had such a treatment when he decided to abandon his monastery. Contrary to what one not acquainted with such things might imagine, the way of life on the Holy Mountain is not disease producing but rather psychotherapeutic.
The reference to famous boxes with mysterious contents is naive at the very least. The monasteries obtain their drugs from pharmacies, usually from Thessaloniki, because they don’t operate a pharmacy on Mount Athos. The medication orders for the needs of 80-100 people (with a large percentage of elderly) for a period of one or two months apparently have some volume and should be packed well in “boxes” to reach their destination safely. Usually, these boxes contain drugs of every kind and a portion of them are psychotropic drugs. Let he who doubts ask any pharmacy serving a population of 2,000 residents and let him learn what the current monthly consumption of psychotropic drugs is and a percentage of all drugs, but also an absolute number inserted in boxes and let him calculate their approximate volume. It should be taken into consideration that a significant portion of these drugs are consumed for the extraordinary needs of the numerous visitors as well as the hundreds of laymen who work on the Mountain.5
Mount Athos is also entitled to have its mentally ill. It would be very unnatural if they didn’t exist since the percentage of those in the adult population who exhibit mental disorders at any given time has been estimated at around 15% for residents in the Western hemisphere.
Besides, as we know, one does not require a bill of health to become a monk, nor is a monk expelled from his monastery when some serious illness appears.6 Mount Athos is not an unrealistic place, nor does it aspire to present an outward image of an “elite” community, like the “caste” of Eastern religions or Gnostics or whatever else. The Athonite State, Panagia’s Garden, is an open space, social and genuinely human; a struggling society journeying towards God. The sick have their place and even honour in such a community! Where else would the remaining healthy monks show their love, patience and ministry if not to those who are beside them even if they happen to be sick?
I cannot tolerate that Fr. Michael—the author of the article—professes the popular unscientific opinions: “Don’t go to the crazy doctor, he will make you completely crazy and you will be stigmatized for life!” Or, “Don’t take psychiatric medicine, they’re narcotics, you’ll become dependent and you’ll be rendered a vegetable!” Such positions need no response, this would be futile.7
As a doctor, my ascertainment is that the mentally ill on Mount Athos are treated more correctly, more scientifically and more effectively than whatever in the outside world.8 The monastic family surround the suffering brother with much care, love and tolerance and spare neither expense nor labor to ensure the best possible treatment and aid.9 He is provided a treatment rarely seen in today’s society, with respect to mental illness, the suffering monk’s soul and his dignity—a treatment that preserves the patient’s self-esteem.10 It should be made clear that in no way is an incompetent person involved in the treatment process. They follow the indication on the medication from the specialist physician, which is prescribed under the responsibility of the rural clinic in Karyes. Also, the administration of drugs and the assessment of the patient’s clinical progress are not made by upstart monks. Most of the monasteries have at least one or more doctor-monks with extensive experience who have impressed me with their scientific competence and awareness.11 The long existing journey of mentally ill Athonite monks is many times better than those who have mental illnesses in the world, where human dignity is trivialized with confinement in psychiatric asylums or the taunts of their fellow villagers.12
Fr. Michael’s inappropriate parallelism of Bedouin doped out on hashish and the Athonite monks is an unfortunate verbal exaggeration.13 It might have been worthwhile before the interview was published to have a psychiatrist (of a trusted newspaper) examine the text and question whether Fr. Michael’s allegations have any scientific standing. I am certain that he would have agreed with me that the anti-psychiatry opinions usually belong to uneducated people.14
Regarding Fr. Michael’s “showcase” allegation, Mount Athos does not claim to be a society of perfect men.15 Moreover, he stresses in the last paragraph of the interview (essentially negating everything previous): “The majority of monks are very nice guys! The love, they look at you with clean eyes. I speak for the majority because there are certainly a very small number of monks who have a pure heart…” If this is the case then what is with all the scandal-mongering throughout the rest of the interview? He did not clarify for us from the start of the interview that he was only speaking about a few exceptions! He allowed us to believe that this is the picture of Mount Athos in general. According to Fr. Michael, what is the real and representative showcase of Mount Athos? The 5-10 likeable mentally ill patients, 5-10 unruly monks and the one monk who set himself on fire? Do we not wrong the 2000 struggling monks who live imperceptibly with ascesis, a pure life and hard work, and are happy and normal?16
We were distressed in seeing the exceptions generalized. The error of one was aggrandized and expressed while the virtue of the many was hushed up. The Hagiorites know this and it is natural and imperative for them to take precautions. We accuse them of hypocrisy because they protect themselves? What family would voluntarily surrender the proclamation of their son or daughter’s deviation to public vilification and shaming? By protecting the reputation of the person who erred, as well as the family’s reputation, from the sneer of the voracious publicity, we hope to heal the wounds. Otherwise, “the last error becomes worse than the first.” Mount Athos is a community of true love where the erring sinners are neither ostracized nor pilloried or stoned.17 They are consoled and covered as suffering brothers and they are “economized” with sympathy and spiritual treatment so they are induced to “repentance and come to salvation.”
Fr. Michael’s interview saddened me. He light-heartedly accuses holy people—humble and obscure to the general public—but accomplished in the heart of whoever knew those who apparently “raised themselves as charismatic figures” to captivate souls! It is a shame for a monk to offer his brothers and fathers as victims to the Moloch of publicity in exchange for the silver pieces and the honorary title of “debunker” and “whistle-blower” who apparently tells everything out right. The monastic life starts out with promises of obedience, humility, and devotion to the brotherhood. Self-projection and self-complacency are not included in these promises. In searching for the deeper “why”, I would say that Fr. Michael’s position against the Holy Mountain, in a psychodynamic interpretation, serves as a personal apology.18
Finally, I want to reassure and cheer up those who were perhaps troubled by reading the publication of “E”. No! The Mountain is not a “concentration camp,” nor some “mental hospital” for dissidents.19 The Kassandres and those appearing as benevolent dirge singers have no place here!20 Mount Athos did not lose the “rota”, it is not sinking! The Holy Mountain continues to sail correctly as it has for centuries. For over a thousand years, the rowers stand vigilant night and day at their oar. The Captain—the Lady of the Mount—holds the steering wheel firmly and the compass firmly shows God’s Kingdom. It is not shipwrecked and it collects castaways!
A google search of Dr. Grigoriou’s name in Greek only produces results in connection to this article. There is no photo, articles or a record of him anywhere in Greece other than in relation to this article. Other doctors with the same name do not have the same credentials as listed here. There is a Dr. Panagiotis Dimitrios Grigoriou in the UK, GMC # 7015533. His primary medical qualification is listed as Ptychio Iatrikes 2006 National Capodistrian University of Athens and he is obviously not the same person as the author of this article.
According to the contemporary spiritual fathers of Greece, all neuroses stem from the guilt of unconfessed sins. The monastery is a hospital where the sick go to be healed. However, if daily confession and revelation of thoughts, combined with frequent Holy Communion and the Jesus Prayer isn’t helping the monk, will a psychiatrist be able to help the individual monk more than his own spiritual father? Hierotheos Vlachos writes, “Orthodoxy is mainly a therapeutic science and treatment. It differs clearly from other psychiatric methods, because it is not anthropocentric and because it does not do its work with human methods, but with the help and energy of divine grace, essentially through the synergy of divine and human volition… I know that the term `psychotherapy’ is almost modern and is used by many psychiatrists to indicate the method which they follow for curing neurotics. But since many psychiatrists do not know the Church’s teaching or do not wish to apply it, and since their anthropology is very different from the anthropology and soteriology of the Fathers, in using the term `psychotherapy’, I have not made use of their views. It would have been very easy at some points to set out their views, some of which agree with the teaching of the Fathers and others of which are in conflict with it, and to make the necessary comments, but I did not wish to do that. I thought that it would be better to follow the teaching of the Church through the Fathers without mingling them together. Therefore I have prefixed the word `Orthodox’ to the word `Psychotherapy’ (healing of the soul), to make the title “Orthodox Psychotherapy”. It could also have been formulated as “Orthodox Therapeutic Treatment”.(Orthodox Psychotherapy, Introduction)
It is amazing that Dr. Grigoriou, with all his experience, is unaware of the vast amount of research in his field on the subject of blind obedience, authoritarianism, cult-like mentalities, and the emotional and psychological abuse that exist in such oppressive atmospheres. Evidence shows that these things lead to neuroses, PTSD, and various other mental illnesses. Studies on the emotional and psychological effects of confinement and feeling trapped are also in abundance.
Dr. Grigoriou does not clarify if these medications are administered to laymen by monastics that are licensed professionals, or if these professionals have up-to-date training.
This statement is not true, at least for the monasteries under Geronda Ephraim. There are numerous stories in circulation about the numerous monastics Geronda Ephraim sent packing on Mount Athos. The reasons ranged from not doing obedience, causing to many scandals, becoming a danger to themselves or others, homosexual incidents, or just so deluded that something really bad could have happened if they were allowed to stay. Geronda Ephraim has also sent a number of novices home from Arizona for various issues. As for prerequisites, homosexuals are generally not allowed to become monks. Geronda Ephraim has said it’s like inviting the devil into your monastery, and without going into specifics, he has hinted at the damage such men have caused in monasteries on Mount Athos. Also, people with mental illnesses are gently discouraged from becoming monastics in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries and are usually told it would be better for them to remain and struggle in the world.
Monk Michael did not say those things in his interview. Perhaps Dr. Grigoriou heard read them in some of his other writings?
As a layman who visits the monasteries and witnesses the front stage behavior—without actually living in a monastery or being a monk and witnessing the back stage behavior—Dr. Grigoriou is not in a position to make such a catch all statement. Monastics who make statements like this usually have a PR agenda.
Sick monks—either physically or mentally—have all had their own experiences of neglect from their brother monastics. One who has to stay in his cell may be forgotten and not have meals brought to him, or the person who tends to them may get caught up in another obedience and not show up to help, etc, in some cases remaining in a dirty diaper for a day or so before his monk-attendant comes to change his diaper and bathe him. A monastic suffering from some ailment may not be able to go to a doctor for a long period of time due to whatever circumstances, thus prolonging the suffering. At other times, the Geronda may say do patience and one has to endure. Again, one may have been given specific instructions for recovery and the Geronda will cut it short, saying it’s not necessary, you’re fine and you have to work, now go.
Again, Dr. Grigoriou is trying to paint an unrealistic utopia experience for ailing monks. Fr. Makarios of St. Anthony’s Monastery, AZ is a perfect example of how this is not always true. After he received his head injury and remained in a somewhat vegetative state, it put a strain on the brotherhood. Some of the younger monks giggled and mocked some of his newly acquired idiosyncrasies, especially during the services when he would stand up abruptly and say insensible things or pass wind in church throughout the night. Initially, Geronda said, “What use is he now? He has the mind of a baby,” and wanted to send him home. However, he did not send him away because he felt obliged to keep him (Fr. Makarios’ father is a priest who helps out at Geronda Ephraim’s nunneries). Of course, there was economia given to him due to his mental incapacitation but not all his brother monks had patience and understanding towards him. The reality in a monastery is once you start losing your usefulness you are made to feel like a burden. Woe unto those who get old and have nothing to contribute to the monastery; even more so if they need to take other monastics from more useful jobs to help them in their daily routine.
In many of the monasteries, the doctor monastics do not keep up-to-date with their training. Thus, many times one finds a doctor with an outdated degree. Of course, the basics don’t change much but would you trust going to a doctor who graduated from university in say 1990, never had a practice, and has not kept up-to-date on his training or the new breakthroughs in science and medicine nor had his license renewed?
Again, this is a far stretch of a statement. A perfect example would be the monasteries here in North America where fat-shaming is quite common among the monastics. The following information is not written to center anyone out or further fat shame individuals, but to point out that these things happen in the monasteries just as they do in the world. Furthermore, there is a complex link between obesity and mental illness and fat shaming is a method of stigmatizing. In the beginning, Fr. Germanos was constantly the brunt of jokes and taunts about his weight (both to his face and behind his back). In the mid-90’s, when Fr. Germanos was visiting Archangels Monastery in Texas, Geronda Dositheos walked up to him and said, “Do you know what we use to do to fat kids in school?” and he bumped his stomach into Fr. Germanos’ stomach. Also in the mid-late 90s, while Fr. Germanos was looking for property in New York, Geronda Ephraim gave many homilies to the Fathers in Arizona. In a couple of homilies, he’d joke about Fr. Germanos with his cheeks puffed, arms outstretched indicating fat, and wobble his body back and forth. All the Fathers would break out in laughter at this display. Though Fr. Germanos was not present for these homilies, he’d hear his brothers laughing and mocking him years later when these cassettes were digitalized and all the monasteries were given the DVDs. Another time, Fr. Germanos had forgot to erase his data from the treadmill they bought for the monastery. Fr. Kassianos, Fr. Michael and Fr. Kosmas had to move it from the living room up to the attic to make room for pilgrims and read the data which included his weight. These monks then joked about it and revealed to the other fathers, including Geronda, how much Fr. Germanos weighed. As time went on, stress-eating and high dessert diets increased in the other monasteries and the other superiors and second-in-commands also started to increase in weight and size; many hitting the 300lb + mark. As the other monastics’ weights increased, the teasing of Fr. Germanos decreased. Once, when the subject of how much weight all the abbots have been gaining came up, Fr. Germanos said jokingly, “It’s because you all judged me.” Taunts and shaming exist in the monasteries and neither the physically deformed, the handicapped or mentally ill are spared. Of course, those who become offended are given this explanation, “We do it out of love, not malice.” But in what universe can this be considered monastic, let alone Christian conduct? Sarcasm, contempt and mockery are not indications of brotherly love nor the presence of the Holy Spirit.
It’s not a far stretch. For example, when Fr. Gergory was a hieromonk at St. Anthony’s Monastery, he drank skullcap, St. John’s Wort, and various other nerve relaxant teas around the clock. And he walked around like he was zoned out and doped up. Other monastics that have a blessing for sleeping pills or herbal remedies to help them sleep also have similar demeanors. The monastics who have a blessing to take Lorazepam for anxiety attacks, panic or stress also have similar doped out demeanors. However, the monastics who take antihistamines with pseudoephedrine are a little more alert and tweaked out (though in some monasteries the use of allergy medicine with pseudoephedrine is no longer blessed. This is because some monastics were abusing the medicine and taking it even when they had no allergy symptoms).
Dr. Grigoriou opens his article with his credentials, familiarity with Mount Athos and the fact that there are Hagiorite monks on psychotropic drugs. These things, he states, make him a “substantive qualifier” to address Monk Michael’s interview. Now, Dr. Grigoriou suggests any psychiatrist is quite capable of analyzing the subject. Someone in Dr. Grigoriou’s position must be aware that many Greek psychiatrists are atheists and have biases and predispositions against Christianity, especially the monastic life.
The deeper issue is when the showcase and external image of a monastery become more important than the individual monastics. How often does the showcase image lead to harm (either of a monastic or a laymen)? To what lengths will a monastery go—lying, perjury, gaslighting, cover-ups—what illegal activities will it commit, to ensure that its image remains spotless? And how do these methods damage individuals?
This is a classic example of monastic minimization of serious issues. Not to mention, Dr. Grigoriou is actually stigmatizing the mentally ill by indirectly calling them “abnormal,” when he states that the other monks are “happy and normal.”
Ostracizing does occur in monasteries. This usually happens when a monastic is not doing obedience or toeing the line. Many times, the superior may instruct the members of the brotherhood to ignore this individual, do not talk to him/her, walk away if this individual tries talking to you, etc. Ostracizing also occurs when one is punished in the Lity or given only rusks or one piece of fruit for a meal while everyone else has a full meal. Ostracizing erring monastics is suggested as an instructional technique by St. Basil the Great, St. John of the Ladder and many other Church Fathers.
This resembles a spiritual father’s reproach to his spiritual child; the wording is attempted to instill guilt. The author is playing the Judas card; a classic amongst the Elders. A similar tactic was used in the HOCNA circles when former monastics started revealing the homosexual abuses perpetrated by their Geronda, Fr. Panteleimon Metropoulos. Ad hominen and straw man attacks and arguments were used against the former monastics that were sexually abused and raped. Gaslighting and dismissing them as deluded liars and Judas traitors was a common tactic used. In the last century, similar methods were used in other Orthodox scandal stories against the accusers/ whistle-blowers. In many of these situations, it eventually came to light that the accused were guilty and they ended up in prison or defrocked.
The island of Amoulianni, off the northwest coast of Athos, was once said to be run like a sort of ‘concentration camp’ for naughty monks. (See Ralph H. Brewster, The 6,000 Beards of Athos, 1935, p. 26). Up to early 1900s, Ammouliani was a dependency of Vatopedi Monasteryof Mount Athos. In 1925, the island was given in the refugees’ families who had come from islands of Propontis (Marmaras Sea), after Asia Minor Disaster. The population of the island was developed quickly and today the island has over 500 residents. Nowadays Ammouliani is a touristic place with frequent transportation with the opposite coast.
The Cassandra metaphor(variously labelled the Cassandra ‘syndrome’, ‘complex’, ‘phenomenon’, ‘predicament’, ‘dilemma’, or ‘curse’) occurs when valid warnings or concerns are dismissed or disbelieved. The Cassandra metaphor is applied by some psychologists to individuals who experience physical and emotional suffering as a result of distressing personal perceptions, and who are disbelieved when they attempt to share the cause of their suffering with others. In 1963, psychologistMelanie Klein provided an interpretation of Cassandra as representing the human moral conscience whose main task is to issue warnings. Cassandra as moral conscience, “predicts ill to come and warns that punishment will follow and grief arise.” Cassandra’s need to point out moral infringements and subsequent social consequences is driven by what Klein calls “the destructive influences of the cruel super-ego,” which is represented in the Greek myth by the god Apollo, Cassandra’s overlord and persecutor. Klein’s use of the metaphor centers on the moral nature of certain predictions, which tends to evoke in others “a refusal to believe what at the same time they know to be true, and expresses the universal tendency toward denial, [with] denial being a potent defence against persecutory anxiety and guilt.” (See Klein, M., Envy and Gratitude- And Other Works 1946–1963)
Fr. George, a married priest, was given permission by the Church to have marital relations with his wife, Mary. The ecclesiastical canons are clear about forbidding marital relations on fast days, the night before partaking of Holy Communion, and during menstruation cycles. As a spiritual child of Elder Ephraim, Fr. George would’ve also abstained on feast days of the Theotokos, etc. Some priests also undergo a cleansing fast before performing certain functions; such as exorcisms, or when they are focused on praying for specific people, or for specific things. It stands to reason that they’d be abstinent for more significant periods of time then a lay person would. The limitations imposed on married couples allows less than 150 days a year in which they’re “allowed” to have approved sexual relations with their spouse. Ecclesiastic canons only permit married couples to have penile/vaginal relations, with the heavy promise of communion loss for the forbidden acts of oral, anal, or digital stimulation.
Unlike the Roman Catholic Church, clerical celibacy was never imposed on orthodox priests living in the world. Although Orthodoxy doesn’t have a rampant pedophilia problem with its clergymen throughout the world, there are numerous examples of extramarital affairs and/or fornication outside the blessing of marriage, both heterosexual and homosexual.
As a disciple of Geronda Ephraim, Fr. George would’ve been instructed to stop having marital relations with his Presvytera when they decided to not have any more children; i.e. sexual relations are only for procreation not for pleasure. Thus, Geronda Ephraim would’ve “suggested” (code word for do obedience because any other action will not be blessed by God) to Fr. George and his Presvytera not to remain chaste after their fourth child. Geronda Ephraim would have enjoined “suggested” that the two live as brother and sister so they could focus more on their spiritual life rather than carnal desires. Thus, in theory, Fr. George would’ve been celibate for many years before this affair was exposed. Only God and Geronda Ephraim know if this was Fr. George’s first round of extramarital experimentation.
If they were true believers who followed orders without question, Fr. George and Presvytera Mary would have lived an abstemious life from as early as the late 80’s.
Over the years, Fr. George became well known within the Greek Orthodox community (especially among Geronda Ephraim’s disciples) for being an especially pious, spiritually minded, humble priest with a traditional nature. He was spoken of with reverence, about his sanctity, and his holiness. The faithful of New York loved his fiery sermons. He seemed to stand out among the other local clergymen. He had a beard, long hair, wore the rassa in public, etc. This isn’t very common among other local priests who are clean shaven, wear a white collar like the Catholics, and only wear their rassas if performing a priestly function. Many New York priests are given a rassa to wear when visiting Elder Ephraim’s monasteries because it’s the dress code as well as adherence to the canons. One can usually spot the clergymen who are the Elder’s spiritual children by how traditional their outer appearance is.
Was that all just a facade? Was there substance to his piety, or was it all just a carefully constructed persona?
The devotees of Geronda Ephraim were indoctrinated with the piety and spirituality of Fr George, which brings into question whether people actually believed in the man, or because they had imposed upon them an ideal that Geronda Ephraim carefully constructed through his counsel?
In May, 1997, Fr George was appointed Chancellor of the GOA, and he became very valuable to Elder Ephraim in this position because he had a steady source of “insider information”. In the spring of ’97, Fr. George was able to facilitate the “great escape” of St. John the Theologian Greek Orthodox Monastery in Picton, ON from under Metropolitan Sotirios’ nose [this brotherhood is now St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY].
Also, during this time, he and Presvtera would have been “living as brother and sister.” It seems ironic, considering the content of the video proofs that have recently come to light, that it was Fr. George that pushed for the writing of the Orthodox Church’s new, stricter policies on sexual misconduct, when he was on staff at the Archdiocese).
This is by no means an uncommon human characteristic (particularly in religious figures/leaders), as those who speak out vehemently against homosexuality, often hide the fact that they themselves are homosexual from the world, those who condemn those who indulge in sexual perversion, to be closeted perverts themselves.
Passias was Ethel’s spiritual father and had actually baptized her into the orthodox faith just before her wedding to Tom Bouzalas in the late 90’s (around the time he started pushing for those stricter sexual misconduct policies). The Passias and Ethel had been having an affair for years. According to an article in GQ:
“In one scene, the bearded cleric, wearing only a white T-shirt, watches his long-haired brunette lover plant her thong-clad bottom on a piece of banana bread wrapped in cellophane. Bouzalas, wearing stiletto heels, oddly wiggles on the loaf until it is flattened — apparently a fetish known as “cake crush” or “cake sitting…In another video clip, the pretty Peruvian rubs her feet on the priest’s face as they lie under a mirrored ceiling and she records his ecstasy at the encounter. In another tape, the priest performs oral sex on his lover while she is still clad in sheer pantyhose”.
Living a celibate life in the world, whilst hearing confessions about other people’s desires, carnal sins, and the kinks and fetishes they indulged in, must have fanned the flames of his own passions. Only Fr. George knows how his perversions progressed to the point that he felt he had to act on them, and while many theories could be put forth, only he knows how he set himself upon that path. The Science Behind Your Sex Fetish – Shape Magazine
Both pilgrims and monastics are taught in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries that the relationship between a spiritual Father and his spiritual Child is a deep, meaningful bond, both stronger and more important than the parent/child bond that exists in biological families.
Because Father George baptized Ethel, and took on this divine responsibility, the depravity of his acts should be viewed as the corrupt acts that they are. In essence, the sexual relationship that they shared together is the spiritual equivalent of a parent having incestuous relations with their child; this affair constituted spiritual and physical incest.
Did Fr. Ephraim know about the inappropriate relationship taking place with his Spiritual Child?
Possibly. The affair itself has been ongoing for years, and there are a couple of likely scenarios.
a) Fr. George may have been making sincere and honest confessions to his spiritual father, Geronda Ephraim, revealing in depth the ongoing adultery, fornication, and sexual deviancy he was indulging in.
b) Fr. George hasn’t had a clean and honest confession since the affair started or ever, and has been hiding both his thoughts and deeds from Geronda Ephraim.
If Fr. George was sincere in his confessions, how was it possible that Geronda Ephraim allowed him to continue as a priest, since the Canons strictly forbid a priest behaving in this way? Strategically, was it beneficial to leave the “general” at his post. Or was it a “better image” for the clergy and laymen not to have Fr. George report to his bishop and step down from the priesthood? There was a lot at stake and it would look really bad on Geronda Ephraim since, “A tree is known by the fruit it bears.”
A bit of divergence is necessary to give some background.
To protect his name, and his monasteries from possible scandal and public humiliation, Geronda Ephraim “overrides” the Canons when it suits his purpose. The devotion to Geronda Ephraim overshadows the Canons and God’s Commandments, and allows his disciples to readily accept the contradictory holy missives that he shares with them. How could one question a holy vision received during prayer?
Geronda Ephraim’s disciples believe that there is no sin in blind obedience, other then disobeying a command-even if it breaks the Canons, they fervently believe that they will not be judged or punished for doing blind obedience.
To further his missionary work, Geronda Ephraim has broken the Canons before, and in turn, the abbots and abbesses of his monasteries also follow his idiorrhythmic example.
In 1989, Rev. Fr. Eustathios Kontoravdis (d. 2009) was the driver in a car crash that killed his wife, Presvytera Kyriaki. After this tragic event, Geronda Ephraim told him that according to the Canons, he should no longer serve as a priest.
In 1984, Ioannis Voutsas (now Geronda Joseph, abbot of St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY) was the driver in a car crash that killed Geronda Ephraim Koutsibo, then Abbot of Xeropotamou Monastery. Despite this seemingly canonical impediment to the priesthood, Geronda Ephraim had Ioannis Voutsas ordained to the priesthood at Philotheou Monastery, Mt. Athos.
Geronda Ephraim gave Geronda Joseph an obedience to tell people he doesn’t remember much from the accident thus enabling him to avoid conversing about it. Though Geronda Joseph is reluctant to talk about the details of this accident, over the years he has given information to various spiritual children. These details, combined with the information shared by Metropolitan Athansios of Lemesou (his best friend since his days at the University of Thessalonica who also hid Joseph from the authorities in his Athonite cell after he left the military) can be found here: Conspiracy of Silence? and Μελέτη των Δέκα Εντολών (1995-1996)and Ομιλίες Με Θέμα: Μελέτη των Μακαρισμών (1995-1996)
In the past, when things have occurred in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries which canonically requires a bishop to be informed or to absolve, Geronda Ephraim has given his own penances and “absolved” it through his koboschoini.
If Fr. George Passias did not have clean confession with Geronda Ephraim, then many more questions need to be raised.
Fr. George has been a spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim for over 30 years, and they were quite close.
“I know when you’re lying,” is a common phrase of Gerondas/Gerondissas towards their disciples. “A parent doesn’t know when their own child is lying to them?”
So, as a spiritual Father, did Geronda Ephraim know Fr. George was lying to him and hiding thoughts?
In the monasteries, the monastics are taught that Geronda Ephraim is a “knower of hearts;” he knows everything about a person from just one glance, he knows what is hidden in people’s hearts, and he can see the demons and passions that dominate an individual. In some cases, especially with carnal sins, it is said he can smell the stench of sin emitting from the individual. It is also said that when he does koboschoini for his spiritual children, he can see them, what they’re doing, feeling, thinking, etc. Geronda Ephraim’s monastics teach these things to the pilgrims who visit their monasteries.
In cases where Geronda Ephraim is surprised by events he did not foresee—i.e. monastics returning to the world unannounced, serious sins and betrayals by his monastics or long-time spiritual children, etc.—people sometimes ask, “If Geronda Ephraim is such a big prophet, how did he not know this would happen?” His disciples will quickly justify Geronda Ephraim’s ignorance with examples from the Gerontikon explaining that God does not always reveal things to His saints.
If Fr. George had been hiding his sins in confession, while the affair has been ongoing for 2+ years, that would mean every time Geronda Ephraim prayed for Fr. George (either koboschoini or proskomide), or whenever the Elder saw or spoke to Fr. George outside the exomologetarion, he must not have received any information from God about the state of Fr. George’s soul.
Alternatively, if Geronda Ephraim did receive information, he ignored the ecclesiastical canons and, in essence, blessed Fr. George to continue serving as a priest, to the detriment of both their souls.
Pilgrims are told by Geronda Ephraim’s disciples that, “Geronda Ephraim knows, however, he can’t force people to make clean confessions.” Of course, this contradicts all the stories of Geronda Ephraim revealing peoples’ hidden sins to them during confession.
There is also the possibility that Geronda Ephraim has known about Fr. George’s sexual misconduct for the last few years and has been giving him obediences to stop serving as a priest and was ignored.
We will never know, as the mystery of confession is confidential. Geronda Ephraim does share the confessions of individuals with the abbot or abbess of the monastery that these individuals visit, especially if there are serious things that the heads need to know. In the Orthodox Church, clergymen have stricter judgments and restrictions than lay people. More is expected of them due to the grace of ordination, and when they fall, the punishments tend to be stricter than those of laypeople. Carnal sins usually lead to defrocking.
In one scene, Fr. George, wearing just a white t shirt, watches Ethel plant her thong-clad bottom on a piece of banana bread wrapped in cellophane, and then crush it with her stilettos. In the Orthodox teachings about spiritual warfare, Fr. George watching Ethel in this act would be considered sinful as he consented in his heart.
In another video clip, Ethel rubs her feet on the priest’s faceas they lie under a mirrored ceiling, as she records his ecstasy at the encounter. Ethel then smothers the cake with her feet and bottom. In the kink community, there is a direct relationship between people who have foot fetishes, and those who have Pygophillia-(buttocks fetish)-it’s a safe assumption that Fr. George probably also indulged in face-sitting.
Foot smotheringand ass worship are often linked, as these forms of humiliation and degradation have a lot in common, both with the physical attributes of the senses (smell, taste, touch, sight) and the psychological predispositions that drive people to these fetishes.
There’s a reason that the monasteries have male and female pilgrims wear socks and cover their feet: foot fetishes and the accompanying lust warfare that can be caused by looking at feet. Pilgrims to Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries have been told in confession that though foot fetishes and foot worship are not technically carnal sins that receive penances, they are dirty passions that should be avoided because they can open the door to even filthier passions which do carry heavy penances. Seeing that indulging in foot fetishism is pointless sexual gratification, it’s forbidden.
Buttock worshipand face-sitting would be one of those dirtier passions which, depending on the acts involved, carry penances from 2-10 years of no Holy Communion.
In another tape, Fr. George performs oral sex on Ethel while she is still clad in sheer pantyhose.
In the Orthodox Church, all forms of oral sex—fellatio, cunnilingus, and analingus—are forbidden and punished with penances starting at 2 years of no Holy Communion.
Here is a basic list of how carnal sins are punished by the Father Confessors in obedience to Geronda Ephraim (of course, this can vary from confessor to confessor depending on time, place and circumstance of the individual confessing. Also, individuals will be ordered to do extra rounds on their prayer rope to Christ and Panagia):
Masturbation/Hand Jobs: 40 days no Communion, 50+ extra prostrations daily.
Vaginal Intercourse Outside of Marriage: 1 year no Communion, 50+ extra prostrations daily.
Oral Sex:2 years no Communion, 50+ extra prostrations daily.
Anal Sex: 5-10 years no Communion, 50+ extra prostrations daily.
NOTE: The above list contains the basic penances for lay people. Monastic penances for similar sins can vary (either being less out of economia, or more because of their rank and stature). Also, this list is for heterosexual sins. These sins committed in same-sex relationships receive harsher and severe penances (i.e. lesbian cunnilingus can earn a penance of no communion for up to 10 years). For a more in depth look at ecclesiastical canons and carnal sins seeThere Is No Sex In The Church.
Fr. George is now 67. The evidence reveals that he has committed adultery, spiritual incest, fornication, and possibly sodomitic sins. These “multitudinous sins and shortcomings” combined with the heavy sin of continuing to serve as a priest and perform the Liturgy, will rack up a very large penance for him. Undoubtedly, Geronda Ephraim has banned him from Communion until his deathbed.
3 Years Later…
Steve Hantzarides writes, “Here’s great story of faith and inspiration. When the former priest, George Passias, left St. Spyridon in disgrace – and debt – a lot of the faithful wondered what was next for one of the most historic parishes in this country. Today, the church is restored to its original Byzantine glory, a testament to the immigrants who built it and the Greek-Americans who are still there from all across NYC. Palm Sunday saw a full house. We are excited about the future of a parish that has seen more than its fair share of difficulties. Would be great to send you pix of our beautifully restored masterpiece. ‘Behold, I make all things new again’.”
In the Fall of 1998, with the blessing of Elder Ephraim, Elder Joseph Voutsas and Fr. Germanos Ponitkas purchased the 188 acre property known as the Huff House Golf Resort in Roscoe, NY for $2,500,000. Three lay-disciples from Toronto had taken second mortgages from their houses for $100,000 each and donated it for the down payment of the property, which helped greatly. Two of the donors gave the money as donations and the other donor gave the money as a loan. There was also a $25,000/month mortgage for the first 2 years and with the help of donations, the two monks paid off the mortgage.
Many of the original structures of the Golf Resort have been torn down. The structures that remained have had their exteriors and interiors redone, and new buildings have been erected. The property value has also sky-rocketed. The amount of money put into each new building (chapel, trapeza, monks’ quarters, new reception area, etc.) averages at over 2 million dollars/building.
At the end of December 1998, Abbot Joseph, together with 3 monks (Fr Germanos, Kassianos & Epifanios) and 4 novices (Symeon, Philotheos, Alexios and Michael) departed St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ and drove to Roscoe, NY to start setting up St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery., Inc. They arrived in early January 1999. Fr. Seraphim came from Arizona shortly afterwards. Due to problematic issues, Elder Joseph sent Fr. Seraphim back to Arizona after a brief stay at St. Nektarios Monastery. The monks were instructed to tell pilgrims that Fr. Seraphim was only sent up on loan to help start the monastery. This was so the pilgrims wouldn’t be scandalized
During Holy Week of 1999, Elder Ephraim visited the Monastery and tonsured the four novices as monks in the old chapel. Elder Ephraim did not change the names of the new for two reasons:
Because they were recently baptized converts who just changed their names at baptism.
So the lie that they were given as an obedience to tell people would be more believable—The new monks had an obedience to tell people they were tonsured in Arizona but their koukoulis weren’t made yet and they had just received their koukoulis now. This was to cover-up the fact that Elder Ephraim visited the monastery and performed an ecclesiastical function without the knowledge or permission of the Bishop.
Some years later, Elder Ephraim again secretly visited St. Nektarios and tonsured 4 novices: Kosmas (Jason), Ephraim (Gerasimos), Nektarios (Gregory), and Damianos (Anestis). This time, the tonsure took place in the new chapel as the old chapel had been converted into a living room for the monks and a temporary dorm when the monastery couldn’t accommodate all the visitors in the guest houses.
The First Chapel at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc.—The Upstairs Living Room
The first church at St. Nektarios Monastery was located in the upstairs living room of the white building, originally dubbed “the main house.” The iconostasis from St. John the Theologian Monastery (closed in 1997) was used, as well as all the other materials from that chapel. The Chapel had golf green wall-to-wall carpeting. The use of the living room as a chapel was a temporary solution until the main church could be built. When the temporary chapel was no longer needed, it was converted back to a living room—a couch occupied the area of the Holy Altar, a computer station the area of the Proskomide. The former narthex was also used as temporary sleeping quarters when the guest houses became full and there was nowhere to put the extra pilgrims.
When Geronda Ephraim secretly visited the monastery during Holy Week of 1999, he gave obediences on where to build everything and how the monastery should look. Geronda Ephraim told the abbot to build the main church where the tennis courts are and the trapeza would be where the current monks’ quarters are now built.
The Present-day Chapel of Archangel Michael Madamado (formerly, the Chapel of St. Nektarios)
The new chapel—which was formerly a Gaming/Entertainment Room—was finished shortly before the first Feast Day of the Monastery in September 1999. Of course, there was still lots more work to be done, this was only the initial groundwork so it could be used as a Church. The new chapel was originally dedicated to St. Nektarios. During the mid-aughties, Elder Joseph decided to change this and re-dedicated the chapel to Archangel Michael icon of Madamado. This was done for two reasons:
The monastery needed another feast day type event to help generate more income and donations for all the projects that were taking place and will continue to take place.
The large church that has yet to be built will be dedicated to St. Nektarios and it wouldn’t make sense to have two chapels dedicated to the same saint.
The present-day chapel at St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc., Roscoe, NY is dedicated to the Archangel Michael icon of Madamado. So far, it has cost the monastery a couple million dollars to “beautify God’s house.”
Some Aspects in the Construction of the Chapel
In order to do the stone work and add a bell tower, etc. the pre-existing structure needed some foundational reinforcement. [NOTE: The bell tower was originally going to be taller. Before it was completed, Gerondissa Olympiada drove Gerondissa Ephraimia, abbess of the Archangel Michael Monastery on Thassos, for a visit. Gerondissa Ephraimia told Geronda Joseph the bell tower should be lower, so he changed the plans and did obedience to her suggestion].
The monastery hired Joe Valentine—owner of Valentine Construction Company, Inc. in Deposit, NY—to do the work. Joe Valentine’s crew was so impressive, that the monastery would hire them to do the foundation and concrete work of all their future projects. And thus, Valentine Construction’s annual revenue became 1 to 2.5 million dollars.
The Valentine crew became very close with the monks at the monastery. When Joe Valentine was in a custody battle for his baby boy, he asked Geronda Joseph if he could testify as a character witness for him in court. Geronda Joseph told him he didn’t know the language that well and it would be difficult for him to testify. However, Geronda Joseph gave Fr. Epifanios the obedience to testify as a character witness, which he did, and Joe Valentine won custody. Geronda Joseph later told the fathers that he didn’t testify for him because if something bad happened later, his name would be attached to it. He also told the fathers, and Joe himself, that he won custody because of all the help he gave to St. Nektarios monastery, etc.
According to the Masters Concrete webpage, as of November 23, 2009, Masters Ready Mixed Concrete (Kingsley, PA) has provided approximately 1900 yards of concrete between the two buildings.
Also see an interview with Fr. Epifanios Kapritsas of St. Nektarios Monastery concerning the benefits of Insulating Concrete Forms (ICF’s).
The Monastery ordered their stones from a New York State company, Champlain Stone, Ltd. South Bay Quartzite® was the material used for the Chapel’s exterior. It is advertised as: “A quartzitic sandstone with an advancing and receding surface that resembles a windswept and sandy beach. Visually smooth, yet heavily textured with a blend of tan, antique white, ice blue, amber, and brown. South Bay Quartzite® will enhance any home from warm beach cottages to cozy cabins deep in the woods.”
The stone work itself was done mainly by a crew of Ecuadorian stone masons who work for a Greek man named George from New York. The Fathers also helped out with the project. The Ecuadorians’ work was so impressive that they were to be hired for other projects as well. The fathers also respected their ethical work etiquette: “They don’t swear, smoke, and they don’t talk much, just work.” Later, during the construction of the new monks’ quarters, the Ecuadorians experienced a big temptation.
Father Raphael had stolen a radio from the pick-up truck of a Mexican work crew doing the drywall. As the drywall crew couldn’t imagine a monk stealing their property, the only other suspects were the Ecuadorians. There was nationalistic and heated tension between the crews from that time on. When Geronda Joseph discovered the stolen radio during a routine, random cell check, he was almost ready to call the police on Fr. Raphael. As Geronda Joseph has repeatedly told Fr. Raphael, “If it wasn’t for your father, Geronda Ephraim would have sent you home ages ago!”
Page 12 of the brochure below has pictures of the stonework on the chapel.
One of the main crews the monastery uses for framing is JP Construction, Inc., Brooklyn, NY, which is owned by John Paralavos. They were used for the extension of the Chapel, as well as all the other building projects. His crew was given special liberties: they could smoke and get drunk on monastery property. Like the other crews that did jobs at the monastery, the workers would stay overnight and sometimes for an entire week. One of John’s workers was an alcoholic. The abbot would give him a large cup of Metaxa every night as a reward for a good day’s work.
The story of how John became close to the monastery is interesting. Shortly after he visited the monastery with his family, the abbot read an article in one of the Greek papers which listed the richest Greeks in America—the abbots and abbesses like to know which pilgrims need “special attention.” When the abbot saw Johns name he decided to cultivate and groom him. This is a common practice with most of the wealthy Greeks that visit the monasteries: special treatment, groom and cultivate. The monasteries have a lot of bills and expenses and wealthy donors are a good asset. John Paralavos’ wife had lupus so he was already in an emotionally vulnerable state that could be easily manipulated. Regular blessings with St. Nektarios’ relics, house visits, taking him on a trip to Arizona to meet Geronda Ephraim, etc. also helped.
One time, John told one of the monks at St. Nektarios that he was thinking of asking Geronda to do a holy water blessing of his house. This monk told Geronda Joseph just before John and his wife went in for confession—it is a common practice for monastics to relay everything a pilgrim has told them before they go into confession. Geronda Joseph brought it up to them before they could ask and John started hailing him as a holy prophet, which the abbot dismissed. Later, the abbot asked the monk if he told John he had been informed beforehand about John’s desire to ask for the blessing. The monk responded, “No, I didn’t say anything.” The monk was then given an obedience not to tell John that he had told the abbot beforehand. Thus, John could continue to believe that the abbot was a God-inspired prophet who read his heart.
The stastidia in the Church were designed and made by the company in Serres, Greece that does all the wood work for Elder Ephraim’s monasteries in North America (chairs in the church, iconostasis’, etc.): Eleftheriadis Bros Sa.
Before the stastidia were made, there were wooden chairs for the pilgrims, and cushioned arm chairs for the monastics. Periodically, some pilgrims would become scandalized that the monks “sat in fancy chairs” while the pilgrims were forced to sit in “less comfortable chairs” or stand. One pilgrim even had the audacity to quote scripture to some of the monks in this regard, “Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues…”
Each individual seat cost close to $600, the Bishop’s Throne cost much more. The monastery made a plea letter to raise the funds to cover the cost and mailed it out to the pilgrims on their mailing list. With the help of donations, the monastery was able to cover the cost of the stasidia. The abbot would sometimes state, “It’s the poor people who build this monastery.” He gave a homily to a group of close spiritual children visiting the monastery and related a story:
“There was one man in New York who is very rich. He made a comment that he’d donate if there was going to be a plaque with his name stating he donated. The pilgrim told the rich man that the monasteries aren’t like the parishes in the world and don’t do plaques of honor. The rich man replied he wouldn’t give a cent, then. And to his shame, poor women who work hard cleaning toilets and save up money—which they hide from their husbands—gave donations for the entire amount of a stasidia. It’s the pain and sweat of the poor that build the monasteries.”
George Filippakis of Woodbury, NY, is an artist who specializes in Byzantine iconography. He was commissioned to do the iconography at St. Nektarios Monastery, Inc. His first project was in the Trapeza, and then he did the Archangel Michael Chapel. The cost of the Church’s iconography was quite a few hundred thousands of dollars.
100% Beeswax Candles
The candles in the narthex are hand-made from real beeswax by the monks of St. Nektarios with the help of various pilgrims. Originally they were manually dipped by hand. In 2008, Geronda Joseph decided to order a $20,000 candle-making machine from Greece which would do most of the work for the monks.
The beeswax was originally bought from a company in Babylon, NY. Geronda Modestos offered Geronda Joseph his contact in China, where they bought “100% pure beeswax” for $1/lb., however, it had a funny smell. Though pure beeswax is expensive, and the prices increase yearly due to the high death rate of bees and hive collapses, the recycling of used candles from the narthex in the candle-making process helps cut the costs.
St. Nektarios was one of the last of 8 monasteries to be established in the year of 1998 via the blessing of then Archbishop Spyridon (2 in Florida, 2 in North Carolina, 1 in Texas, 1 in Michigan, 1 in Illinois and finally the 1 in NY). 1998 was a busy year for Elder Ephraim having to oversee the establishment of 8 new monasteries in less than 12 months, which his disciples state is further proof of his sanctity.
As two other monasteries have feast days in November, the Brotherhood decided to celebrate their main feast day on September 3, the day of the translation of the relics of St. Nektarios. This can ensure that each monastery can still attract peak numbers of visitors for their individual feast days, as well as allow the monks or nuns from those monasteries to travel to each others’ feast day celebrations.
The monastery has grown to over 20 monks with only a few monks having left in its 15 years of existence.
“Validation” is a buzzword that is thrown around frequently in some of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries. The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines the word validate as follows:
2a. To support or corroborate on a sound or authoritative basis.
2b. To recognize, establish, or illustrate the worthiness or legitimacy of
In Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries, “validation” is normally used in the context of Geronda Ephraim: what he did or didn’t say, what miracles he performed or didn’t, what he does or doesn’t do, etc. It is quite common to find the “broken telephone” phenomena amongst the monasteries’ pilgrims. It is also common for rumors to spread around, such as, “Geronda Ephraim said the Antichrist has been born during a homily.” Thus the monks and nuns constantly “validate” and do not “validate” the various stories and rumors that spread amongst Geronda Ephraim’s followers.
A standard rule of thumb for the monasteries is that any negative story—whether true or false—is automatically dismissed as “invalid.” If it cannot be outright denied, it is minimized. If someone involved relates the scandal or embarrassing (for the monastery) incident to other pilgrims and spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim, then a system of damage control is put into effect:
If the person telling the story (or “gossiping”/”slandering”) is a spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, then the Geronda or Gerondissa will talk to the individual directly. This will usually start with asking the individual why they repeated such things and ending with an obedience not to repeat the story again. If the individual is resisting the admonitions, they may be told some cautionary tales about all the tragic things that happen to individuals who speak against or go against Geronda Ephraim; “punishments from God.”
If the individual “running his mouth” is not close to the monastery, they are easily dismissed to others as “liars,” “deluded,” having “psychological problems,” etc. Though these epitaphs have also been hurled onto close spiritual children of the monasteries who repeated big scandals or very private information to others.
The Gerondissa or Geronda will also try to find out how many people were told and if they do not call each one individually to affect damage control, they may call the main persons of those pilgrim circles and ask them to tell the others.
The Gerondissa or Geronda will also call all their monastics (or at least the ones who are aware of the scandalous incident) and give them a strict obedience not to talk to anyone about the incident. “If anyone asks, I don’t have a blessing to speak to lay people.” If it is a monastic who has diakonimata where they have to somewhat talk with lay people, they might be told, “If anyone asks, say no (or I don’t know)”; if they keep persisting, tell them to ask the Geronda or Gerondissa. For a monastic, this is not lying or breaking a commandment; it is obedience. The only sin in obedience is not doing obedience.
In the cases of former monastics talking about their personal experiences, they are easily dismissed as deluded. “They didn’t do obedience, they hid thoughts from their Geronda or Gerondissa, and the devil gained a foothold in their soul. They became deluded and left.” In some cases, the former monastic will be dismissed as one with lots of psychological problems, or even “possessed.”
The above are just a few ways in which the monasteries manoeuvre in order to protect their image, as well as keep the pilgrims in check. Their image must be kept pristine and immaculate, without scandal. Geronda Ephraim has given strict obediences to all his abbots and abbesses, “You must know and see everything that is going on in your monasteries. I do not want scandals, especially in front of lay people. I do not want to hear anything negative or complaints from pilgrims about your monasteries, etc.”
KVOA TV TUCSON 4: MONASTERY MYSTERY REPORT (2005)
Sometimes the monasteries cannot silence those who reveal their secrets, or simply speak about the things that go on behind closed doors. At this point, a discrediting campaign begins. If this doesn’t work then they will sometimes utilize lawyers as a scare tactic. These tactics were used a day or so before the KVOA TV [Tucson 4] exposé on St. Anthony’s Monastery in 2005. Geronda Ephraim was really saddened that this exposé was being aired, and a call was sent out to spiritual children to call, fax, email, and flood the station anyway they could with support for the monasteries and Geronda. Also, spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim who are lawyers contacted the TV station and threatened them with legal action if there was anything false or slanderous. Spiritual children of Geronda Ephraim and Geronda Paisios began an internet campaign to discredit David Smith and the content of his webpage. David Smith’s webpage was taken down a couple years later, but an archived edition still exists:
Pilgrims who had no knowledge of the inner workings of the monasteries—something only trusted monastics are privy to—began to defend the inner workings of the monastery based on the experiences that were tailor-made for them. Some spiritual children went as far as to threaten David Smith and try to intimidate him to stop talking about Geronda Ephraim.
Thus, true to their cult-like nature, and following the trend of every other cult that tries to silence their accusers, the monasteries and their pilgrims utilize a basic campaign of fear-mongering (“don’t speak against Geronda, it’ll end bad for you;” i.e. possession, losing salvation, etc.); intimidation, smear campaigns of discrediting (“psychological problems,” “deluded,” etc.).
In the monasteries, paranoia and suspicion was ramped up, making the atmospheres tense and suffocating.
NEKTARIOS MONASTERY TUMBLR PAGE
Last year, a Tumblr page about St. Nektarios Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (Roscoe, NY) was started and it revealed many of the scandals and indiscretions that have occurred there since its’ foundation, as well as, private details not commonly known by the
general public. The monastery attempted to have the page pulled through numerous complaints to TUMBLR. When that method of harassment didn’t work, they hired a lawyer and accused the TUMBLR page of “impersonating the monastery,” stating that the page “misrepresents the ideological underpinnings” of the monastery’s “tenets.” The monastery’s use of the term “ideology” is quite interesting. In contemporary usage, this word is generally used in the context of politics, though in the case of religion, it refers to fundamentalists and extremists. Furthermore, the effect of an ideology is always to destroy true moral transcendence.1
According to the TUMBLR page, a disclaimer that they were not affiliated with the monastery was required in order to keep the page running. The TUMBLR page also posted the lawyer’s letter.
It was also noted that shortly after this page appeared, the Monastery’s website added a Notice to Users section stating:
NOTICE TO USERS: The information on this site is the property of The Holy Monastery of St. Nektarios. This is the only website on the internet that is managed and approved by the monks of The Holy Monastery of St. Nektarios. Information found posted on other internet sites and blogs regarding St. Nektarios Monastery and its monks has not been validated, and in certain instances is inaccurate and misleading. Everyone is free to read and reflect on the information on this site. However, none of the information on this site may be reproduced without the prior written consent of St. Nektarios Monastery. If you wish to use any of the material on this site please contact us. †May our Lord Jesus Christ bless you! http://www.stnektariosmonastery.org/notice.php
This is a very interesting statement. Essentially, the monastery will decide what stories are valid and which ones are invalid. Even if a story is true, it will be dismissed if it mars the monastery’s image. Thus, the monastery will paint a tailored image of its blameless perfection.
ST. PAISIOS & ST. PORPHYRIOS BELIEVED GERONDA EPHRAIM WAS DELUDED
In another interesting twist, the monasteries also use stories that have not been validated in order to promote Geronda Ephraim. Capitalizing on the fame and glory of Saints Porphyrios the Kafsokalavyte and Paisios the Hagiorite, a recent trend in the monasteries is to tell pilgrims how these two Elders highly praised Geronda Ephraim and commented on his holiness, etc. However, none of these statements have been validated by these two Elders’ monasteries, nor are they found in any of the books about these Elders.
In the 90’s and early 00’s however, the stories at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries were much different. The content of the stories centered on how much difficulty St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios gave Geronda Ephraim in Greece. Both of them were highly critical of Elder Joseph the Hesychast and stated on many occasions to many people that he was deluded. In Elder Paisios book, Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters—in which he gives short biographies of the greatest and holiest monks on Mount Athos—Elder Joseph is nowhere to be found.
Both these saints criticized and disagreed with his methodologies as an Elder. They believed he was deluded and they cautioned people about him. St. Paisios was also very critical of Philotheou Monastery and how things were run there; especially the practise of “yelling the prayer.” St. Paisios would tell pilgrims who were thinking of visiting Philotheou, “Don’t go there, it’s too noisy.”
In the mid-90’s, Geronda Joseph Voutsas (NY); Gerondissa Olympiada Voutsas (PA) and Gerondissa Melanie Mikragiannis (WI) would tell pilgrims about St. Porphyrios, “Yes, he was very holy but he was also very critical of Geronda Ephraim.” Apparently, all three of them, together with Sister Vryenni, went to visit St. Porphyrios when they were lay people, and heard themselves many negative things come out of St. Porphyrios mouth about Geronda Ephraim, “Things not worth repeating!”
The monasteries’ storyline back then was that both St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios were jealous of Geronda Ephraim; how holy he is, what spiritual heights he has reached, how he has revived the Holy Mountain, and all the thousands of spiritual children that flock to him, etc. Sometimes detailed descriptions were given about how both saints didn’t have the kind of blind obedience Geronda Ephraim had and that rendered it impossible for them to reach the same spiritual heights. Then details of how Apostle Peter and Paul fought, or St. John Chrysostom and St. Epiphanios of Salamis fought and cursed each other were given as analogies.
BOYCOTT OF ST. PORPHYRIOS & ST. PAISIOS BOOKS AT THE TURN OF THE CENTURY
Due to the above things, plus many more unspoken things that only the Athonite monks here in America know about, certain measures were taken at the monasteries to boycott the two saints. In 1998, at a gathering at the Holy Archangels Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (TX), Geronda Paisios (AZ), Geronda Dositheos (TX) and Geronda Joseph (NY) decided to boycott the publications of Saints Porphyrios and Paisios—especially Athonite Fathers and Athonite Matters, which was a huge slight to both Elder Joseph and Elder Ephraim.
During this time period, the backrooms of the bookstore at St. Anthony’s Greek Orthodox Monastery, Inc. (AZ) were flooded with unopened boxes of books about these two saints which were never going to be put out in the bookstore. Many of the boxes were sent free as a blessing, too. Not all the monasteries were joined in the boycott, but even those that were breached the boycott; there’s good money and profit in selling Geronda Porphyrios and Paisios books.
As these two saints became increasingly popular in the West, and more publications were being made available in the English language, the demand increased greatly. People start asking the monasteries in the boycott to order these books for them. Over time, the boycott slowly faded away, and much profit was made in peddling these two elders’ books. In time, the New York monastery—one of the original boycotters—even distributed a couple Elder Paisios’ books.
BOYCOTT ENDS: IN AN EFFORT TO VALIDATE GERONDA EPHRAIM, THE MONASTERIES DISSEMINATE UNVALIDATED QUOTES BY SAINTS PORPHYRIOS & PAISIOS ABOUT HIS HOLINESS
Due to increasing popularity in the English-speaking world, via the numerous English translations of their books, some of the monasteries involved in the boycott realized it was a good opportunity to make profit. As well, the monastics couldn’t really tell the pilgrims the books were boycotted, nor the reasons why. The books of these two saints were in high demand, pilgrims kept requesting them and asking if they could place special orders. Thus, giving into the pressure and demand, some of the monasteries lifted the boycott and began to sell Elder Porphyrios and Elder Paisios books. St. Nektarios Monastery in Roscoe, NY even distributed a couple of the English titles.
Eventually, the old stories—true stories—about how much these two Elders (now officially canonized saints) fought against Elder Ephraim diminished. Then, the new stories came—stories not validated by the monasteries under these two saints, nor mentioned in any publications of these two saints, either validated or not. It’s now being taught that St. Porphyrios called Elder Ephraim the last saint, the last depository of healing, the saint of humility, etc. St. Paisios is now said to have prophesied the monasteries in America and extolled Elder Ephraim for his apostolic efforts.
The biography of Elder Arsenios states St. Paisios retracted his original opinion that Elder Joseph the Hesychast was deluded:
“Elder Paisios admired the life and struggles of our ever-to-be-remembered Elder, Fr. Joseph. He told us:
-‘Oh, what I lost! When I came to the Holy Mountain the blessed Elder was living. I heard of his reputation and one of my acquaintances said to me: ‘Don’t listen. They are all lies. They are in error [πλανεμένοι]’. I believed him and did not go to get to know him and benefit from him. However, when his letters were published and I read them, then I understood what a rare person this was, and what a great treasure I lost.'” (Taken from Elder Arsenios the Cave-Dweller)
This book was published after both these men were long dead, and neither can validate or refute it; however, the monastery under St. Paisios, St. John the Theologian in Sourouti, has not validated this tale. Up until the mid-2000s, the monasteries here taught the Elder Paisios criticized Elder Jospeh the Hesychast and Geronda Ephraim as deluded, and had many critical things to say about Elder Joseph the Hesychast. This book is published by a monastery under one of Elder Joseph the Hesychast’s disicples, and it states that St. Paisios admired him.
It should be noted that neither the disciples of Saints Porphyrios and Paisios have validated any of the stories or prophecies these two supposedly said about Geronda Ephraim of Arizona. It should also be noted that none of the publications in circulation by or about these two saints mention any of the supposed quotes and prophecies about Geronda Ephraim of Arizona.
Thus, an interesting double standard has occurred at Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries:
Any negative press about Geronda Ephraim and his monasteries is automatically dismissed as invalid. The monasteries will choose which stories are valid and will dictate their history and truth exactly the way they want people to view it. And these validations can only be okayed by the abbot or abbess.
Any negative press about Geronda Ephraim and his monasteries that came from the mouths of Geronda Porphyrios and Geronda Paisios is no longer spoken of since they are both officially canonized as saints. It looks bad for the monasteries if two of the biggest contemporary saints after St. Nektarios discredited Geronda Ephraim and his elder (Joseph the Hesychast) as deluded.
Today, stories that have not been validated by St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios’ disciples, and were unheard of until recently, are told to pilgrims as validated truth. These “invalidated” stories are capitalizations on the fame and holiness of St. Porphyrios and St. Paisios and are used to promote and validate Geronda Ephraim. Now that these two elders are officially canonized, their words have even more weight and validity in the orthodox world.
Thus, the abbots and abbesses choose what stories are valid and invalid for their own monasteries. They also validate invalid stories from other monasteries to further promote their own agenda.
“MIRACLES” THAT WERE INITIALLY VALIDATED BY THE MONASTERIES
The “Holy Manna Relic”
For over a decade, one of the reliquaries of St. Nektarios Monastery had a “piece of Holy Manna” from the Old Testament. For over a decade, people venerated this “relic” with reverence, not realizing that is was a biblically impossible miracle for manna to last for more than a day, let alone 3,400 years or so. The Israelites were instructed to eat only the manna they had gathered for each day. Leftovers of manna stored up for the following day “bred worms and stank”: the exception being the day before the Sabbath (Preparation Day), when twice the amount of manna was gathered, which did not spoil overnight; because, Exodus 16:23-24 [states] “This is what the Lord commanded: ‘Tomorrow is to be a day of rest, a holy Sabbath to the Lord. So bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil. Save whatever is left and keep it until morning.’ So they saved it until morning, as Moses said was commanded, and it did not stink or get maggots in it.” A novice with a theological degree finally convinced the abbot that it was impossible for the fragment to be true manna from the Old Testament. Initially there was resistance, but the abbot finally decided the authority of the Old Testament was more valid than the word of the person who gave him the “relic.” The abbot ordered a new reliquary from Greece and did not include a space for the manna.
Stylianos Kementzetzidis and his fabricated Crypto-Christians of Turkey persecution and miracle stories
The monasteries have had a long history of “validation” issues. They validated and promoted Stylianos Kementzetzidis, a long-time spiritual child of Geronda Ephraim, and retold all his “miracle” and “vision” stories to visiting pilgrims. When it came to light that it was all an elaborate hoax to raise money for his ailing publishing house, Orthodox Kypseli, the monasteries stopped telling pilgrims these stories, but also tried to hide the fact that they were a lie, so as not to “weaken the faith of the faint-hearted.”
Persistent frontal suture misrepresented as exclusive orthodox miracle
The monasteries claim that priests on Mount Athos have crosses on their skulls; i.e. “an extra suture that runs down the front of their skull which is scientifically impossible and is only a miracle in orthodoxy,” etc. This “miracle” validates Orthodoxy as the only truth. Yet, it is well documented in medical literature and occurs throughout the world in both male and female populations; it’s called metopic (or persistent) frontal suture. The simplest spin on this, “Well, that’s the tradition passed down on Mount Athos.”
A pilgrim once asked an Athonite monk at one of Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries about Fr. Seraphim Rose. The response was an issue about him only being chrismated (cannot be holy or a saint without orthodox baptism); there was an issue about him being idiorhythmic; there was issue of him saying things like there are no more elders (Geronda Ephraim was stated to be the holiest man alive and one of the greatest Elders in the history of the church). The pilgrim was told Fr. Seraphim Rose was deluded and issues of homosexuality were witnessed at his monastery while he was alive (apparently pilgrims to the monastery during those years later became monks at Philothoeu Monastery and told the other monks about the homosexual vibe they witnessed there).
When the pilgrim asked about Fr. Seraphim’s repose and his smiling corpse with a peaceful expression, the Athonite monk responded that it was said that he had a very difficult death and that his disciples manipulated the body so it looked like he had a blessed repose. Yet, Geronda Joseph of Vatopaidi—whom Geronda Ephraim has mentioned in homilies did not have complete obedience and was problematic—has a similar smiling corpse and peaceful look on his face.
Thus, one is to surmise that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s death is not blessed—since Geronda Ephraim’s monks have not validated it as miraculous—but Geronda Joseph of Vatopaidi’s repose is blessed because it has been validated by the monks. The pilgrim also asked about Geronda Paisios (abbot of St. Anthony’s Monastery in Florence, AZ), who praised Fr. Seraphim Rose in an Orthodox Word article as someone converts can look up to, etc. The monk chuckled and said, “That’s not what I’ve heard him say,” and left it at that.
The biologically natural process of corpses returning to their pre-Rigor condition misrepresented as an exclusive Orthodox monastic miracle
Furthermore, the Athonite monks in Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries talk about a miracle on Mount Athos where monks do not experience rigor mortis—thus another “miracle exclusive to Orthodoxy.” However, depending on which monk one talks to, this is either exclusively Athonite monks, all orthodox monks throughout the world, or unsure. However, every mortician knows the technique of “breaking the rigor mortise.” Basically, you bend the limbs back and forth a few times and the joints will loosen up. This “breaks” the stiffness and the body is back to normal. Surely, Athonite monks know this trick if they’re teaching pilgrims that faces of corpses can be manipulated to look like they are smiling. Also, contrary to common perception the process of Rigor Mortis actually does reverse and the body returns to a flaccid state; the muscles losing their tightness in the reverse of how they gained it: i.e.: those larger muscles that contracted last will lose their stiffness first and return to their pre-Rigor condition. Thus, if a monastic is left out long enough before burial, it is natural for him to return to his pre-Rigor condition. No miracle, just natural process.
1 According to former Islamic extremist, Tawfik Hamid, “A religion becomes an ideology when the followers of this religion cannot tolerate the existence of those who have different views or beliefs, and when they understand their religious text literally and refuse to accept any way of understanding the religion other than their own way of understanding.” According to scholar David Satter, “Religion becomes an ideology when man-made dogma is treated as infallible truth.” http://www.frontpagemag.com/2010/jamie-glazov/symposium-when-does-a-religion-become-an-ideology/
Pilgrims to Geronda Ephraim’s monasteries are taught about a “Miracle exclusive to Orthodoxy”—i.e., monks do not experience rigor mortis when they die. Typical of the other “exclusive miracles” which are taught at the monasteries, this one also has some grey areas. Depending on the monastic giving the sermon, it is either all orthodox monastics throughout the world, or just Athonite monastics. In some cases, the monastic giving the sermon will grab the book Athonite Moments and show the pilgrims a photograph of a monk being lowered into a grave with signs of flexibility and no rigor mortis. Also see Geronda Evdokimos claiming this scientifically understood phenomena as an exclusively orthodox miracle that “testifies to sanctity.”
Of course, if you question the monastic giving the sermon, they only have a cursory understanding of what rigor mortis is—which usually amounts to “all corpses are stiff after they die and any flexibility in a corpse is scientifically impossible.” What “proof” do they offer to validate their erroneous understanding of corpses, decomposition and rigor mortis? A photograph from a book and their “authority” validates this “scientifically impossible” phenomenon.
Similar to their erroneous claim of Persistent Frontal Suture being an “exclusive orthodox miracle,” the claim that a corpse without rigor mortis is an “exclusive orthodox miracle” is also scientifically and biologically erroneous. In both cases, “science is not needed to validate these miracles” because they are an Athonite oral tradition and “monks who speak to God know more than a worldly scientist.” Science is not always rejected by the monastics—if science validates something in orthodoxy, or if science cannot explain phenomenon which for the monastics validates a divine origin, then it is accepted. When science conflicts with orthodoxy, then it is dismissed as idle, vain, worldly knowledge that is incompatible with spiritual knowledge.
SOME OBSERVABLE AND PROVEN FACTS ABOUT RIGOR MORTIS
First of all, rigor mortis is easily “broken” by bending and moving the joints about. A common question people have for morticians is whether they need to break a corpse’s legs if the body doesn’t fit into the coffin properly. The answer is, of course, no. The legs bend quite easily even after death.
Second of all, rigor mortis is basically a stiffening of the limbs. The joints become difficult to bend, but this does not happen with all bodies. There is a technique morticians use to get rid of it called “breaking the rigor mortise.” Basically, you bend the limbs back and forth a few times and the joints will loosen up. This “breaks” the stiffness and the body is back to normal.
The Athonite monks are aware of corpse manipulation because some of them have stated that Fr. Seraphim Rose’s corpse was manipulated by his disciples to smile, etc., to give the appearance that he had a saintly death.
Rigor Mortis is the stiffening of the body after death because of a loss of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP) from the body’s muscles. ATP is the substance that allows energy to flow to the muscles and help them work and without this the muscles become stiff and inflexible.
Rigor Mortis begins throughout the body at the same time but the body’s smaller muscles – such as those in the face, neck, arms and shoulders – are affected first and then the subsequent muscles throughout the rest of the body; those which are larger in size, are affected later.
Rigor normally appears within the body around two hours after the deceased has passed away with – as we have already mentioned – the facial and upper neck and shoulder muscles first to visibly suffer from its effects. Many Scenes of Crime Officers (SOCO) have reported that upon discovering the deceased that their face might have taken on what looks to be a grimace; this is because the facial muscles have contracted as ATP drains from them.
Once the contracting of all the body’s muscles has taken place this state of Rigor – technically referred to as the Rigid Stage – normally lasts anywhere from eight to twelve hours after which time the body is completely stiff; this fixed state can last up to another eighteen hours.
Contrary to common perception the process of Rigor Mortis actually does reverse and the body returns to a flaccid state; the muscles losing their tightness in the reverse of how they gained it: i.e.: those larger muscles that contracted last will lose their stiffness first and return to their pre-Rigor condition.
Rigor mortis can be used to help estimate time of death. The onset of rigor mortis may range from 10 minutes to several hours, depending on factors including temperature (rapid cooling of a body can inhibit rigor mortis, but it occurs upon thawing). Maximum stiffness is reached around 12-24 hours post mortem. Facial muscles are affected first, with the rigor then spreading to other parts of the body. The joints are stiff for 1-3 days, but after this time general tissue decay and leaking of lysosomal intracellular digestive enzymes will cause the muscles to relax.
During rigor mortis, another process called autolysis takes place. This is the self-digestion of the body’s cells. The walls of the cells give way, and their contents flow out. Rigor mortis ends not because the muscles relax, but because autolysis takes over. The muscles break down and become soft on their way to further decomposition.
Thus, contrary to the misconceptions disseminated by the monastics, the flexibility witnessed in some monastic corpses during their funeral—which occur 24-48+ hours after their repose—is not “a scientifically impossible miracle which scientists cannot explain.” Rather, it is a natural process that is quite common and has been observed in corpses throughout the world, both orthodox and non-orthodox, lay people and monastics. Once again, the monastics misrepresent a natural phenomenon as an “exclusive miracle to Orthodoxy.” As stated above, in Greek-American orthodox monasteries, the “secular sciences” are generally not considered a “valid” source of information when it comes to understanding or interpreting natural phenomena and processes.
The monastic funerals here in North America are unlike those in Mount Athos: the body is not flung into a hole, but rather it is placed in a coffin and lowered into the hole. Thus, there isn’t much contact with the body before burial other than the last kiss. So witnessing such “miracles” of corpses without rigor mortis here is uncommon. Of course, if the superior tells the monastics that the body is warm and without rigor mortis, then they will believe it is so, and will also transmit this “miracle” to the pilgrims who visit.
Each monastery has its own process of preparing the body for burial, again giving opportunity for manipulation. The body is then placed in the middle of the Church, usually under the polyeleos, and the monastics have to read the entire Psalter continually until the next day. Then the funeral service occurs in the church ending with the procession to burial. Depending on time and circumstance, this process can take from 24-36 hours or more. Thus, photographs of monks without rigor mortis after such a time period cannot be considered a “miracle exclusive to orthodoxy” as this can happen to any corpse; i.e. the natural return to the pre-rigor condition.
So: someone takes a pilgrim’s trip to one of these ephraim monasteries, who has gone there before. Anyway, while there this person meets another pilgrim of the opposite sex whose company is enjoyable. They begin a little dialogue between them while waiting to see the priest for confession. Now, because of the harsh cold wind and snow that day, they both decided to go sit in one of their cars for warmth, as both of them were cigarette smokers. So as soon as they both got in the car and had just finished closing the doors…… Suddenly, to their amazement and extreme shock, out of nowhere there were two monks pounding on both sides of the car’s doors, yelling and screaming at both of them to get out of the car right away. Also saying that this is not acceptable on their monastery property.
[NOTE: There have been incidents of fornication in the past at monasteries. Sometimes, when the rooms have other occupants and a member of the opposite sex cannot be snuck in, then they will rendezvous in a vehicle or, on some of the larger properties, go out into the woods. As countless homilies in the monasteries are about how duplicitous the lay people are and the kinds of transgressions that occur even on monastery property, many times monastics err on the side of caution and assume the worse. The homilies are usually based on the information the abbot or abbess receives hearing confessions or revelation of thoughts from pilgrims visiting their monasteries. Other times, pilgrims tattle tale on pilgrims or pious friends reveal what their impious friends did in secret on monastery property.
In one case, an ex-novice showed up intoxicated at his former monastery with a non-orthodox woman at 2 am. He was blessed to stay one night only and had to leave the next day. The fathers were curious why he’d show up during vigil with a scantily-clad heterodox when he obviously knew the rules and schedule due to having lived there for a couple of years. The elder and the older fathers who were aware of the secret exorcisms the Elder routinely performed on him before he returned to the world also had reservations. Though the ex-novice left without a hostile or violent “incident”, the Elder hinted that something had went on during the night between the couple. This monastery only had one priest at the time and so the monks slept after their personal vigil and went to church for service at 6:30 am.
During lunch, the ex-novice had his cantor of wine removed from the table because he was struggling with alcohol abuse at the time, he was chugging it by the glass full and had to leave (drive off) after the meal. This individual was politely told he wasn’t welcome there anymore unless he adhered to the rules.].
Both pilgrims, frightened by the banging and yelling, got out and said, “We know this, and respect this! – but we were only having a cigarette in the warmth because of the bad weather and ice out there, but we can go somewhere else and return later, if even this is a problem.”
The monks got more angry and furious and stated that, “No you are not even permitted to do that,” (i.e., no blessing), “now get back inside.” They even followed the pilgrims back inside.
[NOTE: Following the teachings of St. Nikodemos, who states tobacco smoke is the incense of the demons, the monasteries have a strict no smoking policy. Sometimes there is “economia” with non-Orthodox workers doing contract work at the monasteries and the smoking ban is lifted just for them].
During confession the priest-monk aggressively and harshly asked one of them if they had exchanged phone numbers, but the pilgrim said to him, “No disrespect here, Father, but that is none of your business,” as it has nothing to do with matters of the faith. The priest-monk got so furious that he said, “You do not have a blessing to give or accept a number.” Then he kicked out the male pilgrim from the property and later on threatened the female pilgrim, too.
[NOTE: There are only 3 male monasteries under Geronda Ephraim that are in climates with snow: Holy Transfiguration Monastery (IL), Holy Trinity Monastery (MI) and St. Nektarios Monastery (NY); which narrows it down to Hieromonk Pavlos (IL), Geronda Joseph Mammis (MI), Hieromonk Michael Santos (NY) or Geronda Joseph Voutsas (NY)].
So, it’s pretty clear, among other things, that they obviously abuse their power, (good example here); and they think they can control everybody with everything in their lives, by threats, slander etc… – anything that works for them and get away with this kind of behaviour. They do not have these rights! nor the right to embarrass people in front of others in any way! If there is something to say, just say it in private…
[NOTE: Typically in the monasteries, spiritual children of either sex in the world need to get a blessing before they can start dating an individual. If they receive the blessing, and things go well, the spiritual Father will request to meet the boy or girl. After that, he will decide if the relationship can continue. In the cases of new spiritual children, countless individuals have been given obediences to break off the long-term relationships they were in for various reasons—fornication, the partner was non-Orthodox, the partner, though Orthodox wasn’t a good person, etc.
At the monasteries, the spiritual Father always has the last say in a relationship. The spiritual father also has countless cautionary tales about spiritual children who disobeyed him, continued dating or even married someone they forbade, and the disasters that have occurred since then for the individual. This is why in both the male and female monasteries, there is a match-making system for close and loyal spiritual children.
Some superiors even have photo albums of men and women they can show. The spiritual Fathers like to keep the dating pool “in the family” so to speak because the rules and guidelines for relationships—no touching, kissing, etc.—are strict. The rules for marriage—no sex on fast days or before Communion, sex only for procreation, abstinence after childrearing period is over, and coitus being the only form of sex permissible—are also strict. If the two candidates have the same spiritual Father, or at least spiritual Fathers who are in obedience to Geronda Ephraim, then they’ll be on the same page and it won’t come as much of a shock when certain obediences are given].
There have been many red flags about these people for so long, etc., and many other observations I had personally made as well, that were, unfortunately, horrible! But sometimes somehow you try to give the benefit of the doubt, especially when you have friends who frequently visit the monasteries, convincing you that all those complaints out there are false about them, or you misinterpreted, etc., – that it’s always someone just trying to discredit them in any way possible, just because of jealousy, etc. But when it happens way too many times it’s obviously not a misinterpretation. It’s the truth. In my opinion, they did a good job of this to themselves many times; they’ve discredited themselves numerous times! Their lies just keep on growing and multiplying…. this is not accidental or coincidence, it’s who they really are, unfortunately.